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“A real visit back to the great times of the past” with Johnny Cecotto...

Saturday and Sunday July 2nd& 3rd 2011 at Francorchamps, Belgium
The Bikers’ Classics event was going to be held at the marvellous circuit of Spa Francorchamps. For me this edition was going to be a very special one because for the very first time Johnny Cecotto was going to be here to take part on this great event. Johnny was going to drive on the Yamaha OW45 from 1978 which was to be prepared by Ferry Brouwer of the Yamaha Classic Racing Team (YCRT). I was going to be there on Saturday all alone to report for this Official Johnny Cecotto Fansite and also for Sport Motions, my other website about different types of sport events. But on Sunday I would be accompanied by my wife Carolien who sometimes helps me at events for this site. Next to Johnny Cecotto there would be many more big names from Grand Prix motorcycle racing history. To name only a few of them: Steve Baker, Christian Sarron, Phil Read, Dieter Braun, Rodney Gould, Pentti Korhonen and Bruno Kneubühler. Also some world champions of sidecar racing were here: Webster, Steinhausen, Abbott and Engelhard. In the building at the L’eau Rouge there was a fantastic exhibition to be held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Yamaha factory in Grand Prix motorcycle racing. Some very nice motorcycle racing bikes were there like the ones of Phil Read, Giacomo Agostini, Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, Jorge Lorenzo and also Valentino Rossi. As I got to the tent of the Yamaha Classic Racing Team Johnny Cecotto had just arrived together with his son Jonathan. He already had to sign a lot of autograph requests from people who had noticed him arriving. After greeting him with an embracement and a little talk he had to go to change into his leathers since the first session of the GP drivers was going to be here very soon now. He seemed to have the same outfit that he used in Italy last year at the 200 Miglia Imola Revival event. Johnny said to me that the leathers were a bit uncomfortable, especially at the legs. These modern leathers are quit different from the ones he used in the past of course. There were some small changes made on his Yamaha OW45 to give him a better sitting position. In this first run the Yamaha OW45 500 did very well and he had no problems except for the rain which now was falling down from heaven. Almost all the drivers didn’t take any risk and one by one came back into the pit. At least now I already had some action shots of Johnny Cecotto on his Yamaha, something I couldn’t manage at the 200 Miglia Imola Revival last year. There the Yamaha didn’t run properly and he had to stop after only 1 lap. In the afternoon there was an autograph session at the L’eau Rouge building and many people tried to get an autograph of all the world champions that were here. When the second session from the GP riders of today came Johnny Cecotto didn’t step on his Yamaha. After informing with André, mechanic from the YCRT, it seemed that both Johnny and Jonathan were exhausted and feeling not very well because of the long travel they made by plane and car. But for sure he would be on the bike again tomorrow. And so on Sunday morning I got back to the Spa Francorchamps circuit together with Carolien. The weather was much better today with some more sunshine. First we went to the Yamaha Classic Racing Team so Carolien could be welcomed by Johnny and Jonathan. It was a nice seeing again with as usual the 3 kisses that we are used to give here in Holland and which Johnny has taken over by now. In the 1st run I took pictures of all the great Grand Prix motorcycle racing drivers, and especially of Johnny Cecotto of course, while I was standing at the chicane at before the F1 pit lane entrance. Great feeling to witness all these old machines, drivers and the sound and smell of these old engines. “A real visit back to the great times of the past”! Again there was an autograph session to be held in the L’eau Rouge building and a massive crowd came by again to get an autograph, revive some old memories and to take a look at their idols way back from the past. At this Bikers’ Classics event in Francorchamps these old time Grand Prix motorcycle racing World Champions are approachable. But in the afternoon the best part of this Bikers’ Classics event had arrived though: the Grand Prix Parade! First all the GP drivers of the smaller bikes got on their machines and drove to the grid. There they positioned like they used to do in the past. The bikes were pushed to ignite the engines and of they went. Meanwhile the “big guy’s“ had taken on their leathers, boots, gloves and helmets and were waiting to get on their machines. Johnny was helped by Jonathan to put his gloves on and were filmed during this. Jonathan could sit on Johnny Cecotto’s Yamaha OW45 500 from 1978 while the smaller bikes were still driving some laps around the Francorchamps circuit. I joked to Johnny Cecotto that he needed to stay on the Yamaha for 45 minutes. ‘With this thing on?” he answered meaning his uncomfortable leathers. I told him he should wave to me when he came through in the La Source hairpin as that was the place I planned to go to after they would start. He had to laugh about it. But then it was time for them to get to the grid. Cecotto, Baker, Read, Sarron and all the other big names got in formation lap towards the starting grid now. While we walked to the grid with André of YCRT we also managed to get Jonathan with us on the grid to see his dad there. It was great to see this starting grid and we took as much pictures as we could. Johnny and Jonathan seemed to enjoy themselves as well. I told Jonathan to stand next to his dad and the Yamaha and I took some pictures of them. Now Johnny said something to Jonathan and he came to me now. “My dad says you have to come and stand next to him” he said. And so I did. Well, now there I stood on the starting grid next to my all time great idol Johnny Cecotto on his Yamaha racing bike. Something which I never could have dreamed of to be able to do at any time in my life ever! It was a short but mighty feeling!! And also a bit strange because now I was photographed myself by my colleagues. Me and Johnny Cecotto standing together on the grid of the Spa Francorchamps circuit. Jonathan and of course Carolien also made some pictures from this moment to remember it for ever. Johnny was interviewed by Jaap Timmer, better known as “Mr. TT” here in Holland. Johnny said he really enjoyed this event and that it was great to see so many old friends here again. The sign was given to leave the grid now for all the photographers and camera crews. Only the mechanics who had to push the bikes were allowed to stay. I said to Carolien we would separate now to different spots. So at the start Carolien did stay in the pit while I got to the La Source curve to shoot some action shots there. After all I had a deal with Johnny that he was going to wave to me. That would be a great photograph!! Johnny came through for the first time and I already shot some nice pictures. But after this I waited for nothing more to come of Johnny Cecotto. After 1 lap Johnny had to retire because of gearbox problems. His boots were full of oil and they could not repair the machine and so he wasn’t able to get back on the Yamaha. That’s the risk of these old machines although they’re kept in very well condition by Ferry Brouwer and his crew. Carolien who was in the pit made some pictures of Johnny retiring with his Yamaha. Finally to the end of the GP 1 parade I got back to the pit to join Carolien again and she told me what happened. We didn’t see either Johnny or Jonathan now anymore. We still had to look at the sidecar Parade though. I made some photographs of them at the Raidillion. Then we got back to the media room where we walked into johnny and Jonathan. And so we managed to have some time alone with both Johnny Cecotto and Jonathan here in the Paddock and Press Room. He did sign some autograph cards for me, one for my friend Henk Hindriks, who I know from the TT circuit of Assen. When I told Johnny the story of how I did get in touch with Henk he had to laugh about that, something also both Henk and I still do when we talk about that! Further on we talked about all kind of things. Johnny really did enjoy this Bikers’ Classics event here at Francorchamps he said and for sure was very surprised that still so many people were interested in this and of course him in person. We now had to say goodbye to each other because they had to get to the airport in time for their flight. We agreed to visit Johnny at home when we go to Italy next year. But hopefully we will meet again a bit sooner somewhere, sometime. We picked our gear and got to our car to go home. While driving to the exit we saw Johnny and Jonathan walk by and we again said good bye. Well, that was it for now. The Bikers’ Classics 2011 event had been very special for me. Deep in my heart I hope that Johnny Cecotto will be an annual competitor of this marvellous event. I know for sure he is a man who is kindly seen by a lot of spectators. Just like Agostini also Cecotto is a man for who people do come to a circuit at an event like this. We will just have to see about that.....

Bikers’ Classics Francorchamps 2011

Johnny, me and Jonathan
Johnny Cecotto on his Yamaha
Johnny Cecotto on the grid